Building a Home for our Elephants
On December 27, 1992, we were blessed by the birth of the first baby elephant born at our Zoo -- Raja, a bouncing baby boy. The St. Louis community rejoiced with us. People watched footage of the new baby's birth on local and network TV, they lined up to see him when he was first introduced several weeks later, and they submitted 43,000 entries in a “Name the Baby Elephant” contest.
The day of Raja’s birth was also the day the Saint Louis Zoo started planning for a new elephant facility, capable of holding a growing bull elephant and serving as a breeding center for endangered Asian elephants.
Thanks again to community support, Raja and our other elephants were able to move into a new home less than seven years later. In 1999 the Zoo opened the first phase of River's Edge, a state-of-the-art display and management facility for our burgeoning group of elephants and other animal species.
Zoo visitors can see for themselves the lush, spacious surroundings that our elephants now enjoy in River’s Edge. The four habitats, as well as one behind-the-scenes habitat, comprise a virtual pachyderm playground. Their varied topography and realistic water features challenge our elephants to climb, explore and test their physical agility. This enriching environment gives them numerous opportunities to display naturalistic behavior.
Each habitat provides the elephants with a unique watering hole (the “river” in River’s Edge). One of the habitats contains a 90,000-gallon pond -- perfect for diving and splashing. Another habitat is graced by a stream running through it. Still another sports a roaring waterfall, where elephants can take a cooling shower whenever they choose (to the delight of onlookers). The habitats also include large deadfall trees and other enrichment items the elephants can manipulate, just as they do in the wild. And in colder weather, they can stand under overhead radiant heaters, which prolong the amount of time the elephants can stay outdoors.
Elephant Management Facility
But behind the scenes of River’s Edge is an equally important component of our elephants’ new lifestyle -- a $3 million state-of-the-art management facility that houses the animals in the colder months and during inclement weather.
Uppermost in the minds of the elephant facility’s designers were the safety, well-being, and health of the Zoo’s elephant herd and keeper staff. The 13,000 square-foot elephant management complex was also designed and built to withstand the daily wear-and-tear of a full-grown Asian elephant bull. (When fully mature, Raja will stand about 7-12 feet tall and can weigh up to six tons!) The building features 30-foot-high ceilings and 16-foot-high stall walls, as well as 20,000-pound hydraulically operated concrete doors.
The indoor elephant space is divided up into eight stalls and corridors. Keepers can also connect two or more stalls together to create larger living spaces for one elephant or for a group of elephants. Keepers can shift an animal in at least two directions from every stall, allowing maximum flexibility in managing the animals.
Each elephant stall is equipped with an overhead radiant heater, allowing keepers to create individualized “comfort zones” as needed. What’s more, overhead chains in the stalls are used to hang “toys” like logs and tires for the animals to play with. Custom-designed automatic waterers in each stall provide fresh water refills after every drink. One stall even contains four showers for play and bathing.
Elephant Woods is the wooded area behind the Elephant Management Facility and offers a naturalistic habitat for our growing elephant family. Secluded, wooded, peaceful - this area provides sanctuary for our elephants. Not unlike our own back yards at home, this habitat provides the elephants a place to get away from it all, browse on vegetation, dust in soil and sand piles, splash in mud wallows, and relax among family and friends away from the hustle and bustle of the River's Edge Trail. Truly intended primarily to enrich our elephants' lives, exhibitry is not the chief goal of this area, though visitors who ride the Emerson Zooline Railroad might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse into the private lives of the elephants while they are enjoying their ride through the Zoo.
Once our elephants moved into their new River's Edge home in 1999, they became so comfortable that their thoughts soon turned to starting a family. And now there are three young calves. Great news, but it meant a few adjustments to their surroundings. Their Zoo home was modified -- er, baby proofed -- in anticipation of our new elephant babies. Read more about what this entails by clicking on Getting Ready for Baby (elephant, that is!).